Tuesday, October 14, 2014


14 October 2014: Actually, yesterday was the big day - but we were busy writing about the recovery of USS Cole (DDG67) - so here we are today. Better late than never! 239 years ago yesterday, the Continental Congress voted to procure and fit out two armed vessels to cruise in search of munitions and troop ships supplying the British Army in America. They were armed with "carriage guns" and a "suitable number of swivel guns" and crewed by 80 men and officers. With the Continental Army sadly lacking in almost every area of supply, these ships and whatever they might capture became crucial to the successful revolution.

During the course of the conflict - six long, frustrating years - the navy acquired, either through buying or building, some fifty ships of varying sizes and strengths. The maximum number at any one point was about twenty. The problem was that we kept getting them sunk or captured by the more experienced and skilled Royal Navy. But we prevailed!

At the end of the war, Congress sold the remaining ships, released the sailors and officers, and figured we didn't need to worry about that any more. The Framers of the Constitution, however, felt differently, and empowered Congress to provide and maintain a Navy. This resulted in the order, in 1794, to "construct and man six frigates" which would be administered by the War Department. You may have heard of some of them: USS Constitution, United States, President, Congress, Chesapeake, and Constellation. (They all have figured in one or more of my books.) The first three were listed as heavy frigates, each carrying 44 guns in their main battery (but often carried more) and the second group of three were lighter, carrying 36 or 38 guns.
USS Constitution sailing on her 200th birthday - the oldest and the newest (at that time) frigates in the US Navy

Then Congress, in 1798, established the Department of the Navy. This date is also celebrated as the Navy's Birthday, just to add to the confusion! And then, to further confound, there is Navy Day which was designed to give recognition to the Naval service and was established in 1922. The date chosen by the Navy League for that day was 27 October, Theodore Roosevelt's birthday, in recognition of all he did for the modern navy. And internally, within the ranks of active duty and retired Navy personnel, the Navy celebrates its own birthday on 13 October as mandated in 1972 by CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) Elmo Zumwalt.

So take your pick and celebrate one or all of them! And be grateful for what has evolved into the most powerful maritime force in the world!

"To our ship: never has she failed us!" Captain William Bainbridge, in a toast to USS Constitution

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